Michille: 11 Things Every Romance Writer (Doesn’t) Need

toolboxesAs readers may have noticed, there is a particular blog that I really like (which I’m not naming here because I am going to bash a recent post). So I was extremely disappointed when said blog recently had a post about 10 Things Every Romance Writer Needs. At least one of the blog owners is a romance writer. Apparently the writer of this post is not. At least I would find it hard to believe if he is because the content of the post bordered on insulting to the writers of the genre that essentially pays the bills for the whole fiction market. It is a well-known phenomenon, this casual dismissal of the romance genre, and one that prompted the creation of the International Society for the Study of Popular Romance, the partnership of the Romance Sociologists, and was recently explored by Laura Kahn in her documentary Love Between The Covers.

Not all of the 10 things were insulting. Some of the ‘things’ apply to all fiction writing like surrounding yourself with good books to help keep your head in the good-fiction game, to spend some time reading like a writer, and to take encouragement from the success of a well-written book. Some of them apply to all fiction writing, but used cutesy sexy titles like “Quickies,” which is essentially advice to keep your eyes open and a notebook handy so you can jot down the ideas that come to you at unexpected times. The “Shoulder to cry on” thing emphasizes the importance of community – find a fellow writer or a good friend you can bounce ideas off or lament to when your writing stalls, someone to believe in us, encourage us – a good thing for all writers, not specific to romance, but would you suggest that CJ Box find a shoulder to cry on?

Then there are the ridiculous, like:

  • “Cheese and Wine” – Don’t try to write without some . . . cheesy, mushy music
  • “Secret crush” – Nothing keeps us in the romantic mood like a little celebrity crush
  • “Something sensuous” – Spray your favorite perfume on your wrists

Going by this, all I need is Air Supply on the radio, a Tiger Beat worthy pic of Benedict Cumberbatch on my bulletin board, and a sprig of lavender in order to write in my “iridescent, happy bubble of handsome heroes and happily-ever-after.” Phew! I am so glad I now have the secrets to writing a best seller.

Here is one of my favorite insults:
“Stock phrases. Keep a list of stock phrases pinned up at your writing desk. ‘There was a maddening arrogance about the man’, ‘His tongue sent shivers of desire racing through her.’ Not great writing, but they’ll help you when you’re stuck.”

I have several things to say about stock phrases. I write romance and I don’t like them. I try not to use them. He even says it’s not great writing, so why assume that romance writers are the only writers who might pull one of these out. I get annoyed when a romance writer uses the phrase that goes something like this: “she tilted her head to give him greater access.” I sigh in relief when an author appears to be leading up to that stock phrase and concludes with something other than “greater access.” Brad Meltzer reuses a line about addiction – I’m not obsessed/addicted. I can stop any time, just not today – or something like that. Dan Brown’s characters always address crowds with “My friends,” Rudyard Kipling often used “O best beloved,” and Terry Pratchett usually has someone mispronounce a name or lie and excuse it with “but that was a metaphor.”

That said, I love it when characters have stock phrases. Tony in ‘Bet Me’ said “piece of cake” as his stock phrase and it played into the plot nicely. Phillip Quinn in Nora Roberts Quinn Brothers series always offered to run away to Bellini/Costa Rica/Aruba and drink mai tais/bake cream puffs/eat pate with the closest female, whether she was 21 or 81, when the going got tough. Stock phrases can work well without one sword or sheath in the entire manuscript.

How about this one:
“Sense of humor. Writing romance novels requires as much work as any other novel, but never forget that you’re dealing with fantasy and fairy tales and Ferraris into the sunset.”

Really? He obviously has never read Linda Howard’s Death Angel (male protag is a hit man) or Anne Stuart’s Ice Series (or almost anything by AS, but this series is filled with agents and mafias from several countries). But let’s make sure all romance writers keep their tongues in the respective cheeks because we can’t possibly be serious about the happy ending. Oh and “keep the levity” because the multiple scalpings and cutting the beating heart out of the heroine’s father in the screen play for the re-worked Last of the Mohicans is a laugh riot.

Lastly, he said a romance writer needs thick skin. Given this kind of critique of the genre, a thick skin is essential.

He had 10 things. I am adding an eleventh thing that a romance writer doesn’t need – insulting critics who don’t get the genre and have probably never read a romance, except maybe that god-awful recent blockbuster that had no plot and an extremely annoying inner goddess. Because, you know, all romances are like 50 Shades, all paranormals are like Twilight, and all literary fiction is worth reading.

I’m off to paste a bunch of stock phrases onto my pinup of Benedict Cumberbatch. See you on the Best Sellers list.

11 thoughts on “Michille: 11 Things Every Romance Writer (Doesn’t) Need

  1. I liked this post a lot.
    I have to ask if the following was a typo:
    “she titled her head to give him greater access.”

    I was thinking up ways she could give her head a title, then I figured she had tilted her head to one side.

    The rest of this post, I loved without reservation.

  2. What a ridiculous post (not yours, of course, but the one you reference). Why am I not surprised that a MAN wrote it. Sheesh. I can’t believe there aren’t any comments on it, either (of course, with a post as disparaging as that, it’d probably be best to turn the comments off). Why someone who doesn’t write romance is giving advice on how to do it is beyond me. I can’t catch the original publication date on this, but I can only hope it was meant as an April Fool’s joke.

    Probably not.

    All’s I can say is I’ll now take anything he blogs about with a grain of salt. He’s lost his credibility, in my opinion. Shame.

    • I am disappointed, too. Eloisa James thinks one reason men bash the romance genre so often is that they are intimidated by it. They think it holds them to an impossible standard. Of course, they don’t read Clancy and think they have to be like Jack Ryan (who had a stock phrase – “well, it was just a guess, but it seemed logical”) so why they think they have to be like Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain.

  3. While I’d like to give the author the benefit of the doubt and believe the piece had such an insulting tone because he was aiming to lighten it with humor and went horribly wrong, I’m just not that charitable; especially after reading his “20 things to remember when writing genre romance.”. A gem from that is “never introduce controversial issues into a traditional romance novel.”

    • I missed that post. I guess he wouldn’t be interested in the assisted suicide one I just read, or the one with the child with autism that dad struggled to accept, or . . . He must only be aware of romantic comedies, which are good, but not the only romance style on the market.

  4. Bashing romance is such a cheap shot, almost a cliché in itself. So tiresome! Good thing we take that advice exactly for what it’s worth. Thanks, Michille, for giving us a reason to sit down at the computer today!

    • You’re welcome. I’m so glad I could give you a reason to sit down in your “iridescent, happy bubble of handsome heroes and happily-ever-after” (direct quote). I guess that homeless guy in Loving Lucy has to go. That could be interpreted as controversial (see Elizabeth’s comment).

  5. What everyone else said – and I think he’s not just ill-informed, he’s behind the times.

    I noticed a significant increase in male delegates at this year’s RWA – not just agents and editors, but authors, young and old. ML Buchman, who writes romantic suspense, was on the tour of Coronado. At breakfast one day I sat next to a very nice older man who writes for Harlequin, and in a workshop Jeanne and I met a young man who was self-publishing romances and already had an impressive list. And not forgetting Damon Suede, who’s smart and funny and was one of the speakers at the PRO retreat – Jeanne loved his session on writing great sex scenes. These men are not snarky about romance, they’re smart. And they’ve probably read the Author Earnings report 🙂 .

    • I had noticed the number of men increasing over the last couple of years, and a bigger increase in young writers. It is exciting to see the changes. I also like the defiance of some romance writers and readers who are starting to throw the stereotypes back at the critics, like the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog and The Ripped Bodice bookstore in California.

  6. (-: I will say, a celebrity crush could be a great muse for writing. But why limit it to romance? I (embarrassingly) acquired a celebrity crush at the beginning of the year, and it helped me write a romance, a caper and a few blog posts.

    Cheesy music, though . . . just makes me wish I had a gun so I could shoot out the speakers of the stereo. Music used as a writing tool shouldn’t just spread a layer of fat and calories over the top of your brain — it should burrow deep down and touch your heart or make you think about the complexities of human relationships.

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